The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 months ago

Three Non-commissioned officers queue up to dispel the myths, respond to the critics, end the rumors, and weigh in on rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq. 

On December 6, I published Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops.  This article touched quite the raw nerve, and since the time of publication I have received many communications from various interested parties, some of them with direct knowledge of the things discussed in the article.  I stated in the comments to the article that I would update the discussion with future posts, and this is my second installment on the subject of rules of engagement.  Some of the communications I received from members of the military were literally stunning, and I will focus on two such communications in this article, specifically, from NCOs who were in Iraq and who are familiar with rules of engagement and the affect they have on U.S. troops.

Introduction and Background

Necessarily preliminary to this discussion is an understanding of why it is acceptable to discuss such things in the open.  Does detail on this topic not constitute an OPSEC (operational security) violation?  This question has been posed to me on other articles I have written.  More specifically, regarding my article Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops, it was stated to me by one reader that the free flow of information concerning the military may be likened to the Roman roads.  The same roads the Roman armies used to build the Roman empire were used by invading armies to end it.  And as a result of the seed article to this one (on ROE), it was said to me that while it may not have been intentional, the affect of my article on rules of engagement was like the affect Jane Fonda had during her visit to North Vietnam.  I had broken the “loose lips sinks ships” rule, and it had a detrimental affect on our ability to wage war.  I must confess, I have never been compared to Jane Fonda before.

In the two articles cited above, I used only MSM reports, and tried to weave a cohesive story together from the several reports that had been filed.  One of the virtues of blogging is that a vast array of reports and other information is available to the self-initiated analyst to observe trends and other characteristics of the reports.  This fairly accurately describes the two aforementioned articles.  Nothing original existed in them.  If this information is available to me, then it is most certainly available to the enemy.  More to the point, the only way, for instance, for the MSM to be able to write that the enemy knows the ROE of U.S. troops is to get the story directly from U.S. troops.  The story is there with U.S. troops because they see it and live it daily.  The U.S. troops get the story from the enemy.  Hence, the enemy already knows the information.

To assert that a blogger with third hand knowledge of the enemy interactions with U.S. troops (e.g., dropping their weapons just prior to engagement, and then walking away when the ROE prohibits U.S. troops from engaging), packaging them up coherently, and commenting on them for several hundred people to read constitutes “loose lips” is akin to suggesting that your family accountant is responsible for the latest Congressional vote to raise taxes.  Put simply, “that dog won’t hunt.”

Additionally, there is a difference between written ROE (most of which the grunt is not allowed to read), and the implementation in the field.  Commercial jet airliners have manuals, but reading them, no matter how studiously, doesn’t qualify a person to pilot the aircraft.  The two parties most qualified to understand how ROE affects U.S. troops are U.S. troops themselves and the enemy.  The enemy sees them.  The enemy fights them.  They see the actual ROE in the field, and the claim that somehow a blog can affect what the enemy is watching on the ground is not compelling.

What honest, open and serious debate can do is make the general public aware of things that they would otherwise not have time to research for themselves.  Finally, a post like this can serve to open and continue dialogue and debate within the military ranks on a subject that involves many raw nerves and, based on the reports below, causes an impediment to achieving the mission objectives.

I hope that this post serves as a catalyst to those ends.  Concerning the two NCOs I cite below, I have done my investigative homework to verify that they are who they say they are; e-mail from *.mil network domains, independent verification from MSM accounts and other sources that the units they said that they were part of were indeed deployed to the locations and at the times that they claimed.  Finally, one word is redacted from the first account for sensibilities, and per agreement with one of the NCOs, the dates, unit designations and locations are redacted from the second account (for reasons that will not be disclosed here).  The language is “crusty,” and so the reader has been warned.

I would like to express my personal gratitude and sincere humility that these respected NCOs felt that they could share their experiences with me.  I am honored beyond what I can express here in words.

The NCOs Speak

From an NCO who was deployed in the Kirkuk area for approximately one year.

Our ROE was simple. The right to self defense was never denied. The ROE was based on a method of determining a life threatening scenario from a non-life threatening one. We called this the “Escalation Of Force.” Show, Shout, Shove, and Shoot. It’s pretty self explanatory and easy to follow in a perfect world. The problem is that the world isn’t perfect.

Scenario: You’re a gunner on an M2 .50 caliber machine gun mounted atop a M1114 Up-Armored HMMWV. You are the last vehicle and you are pulling rear security. A vehicle in the distance is swerving through traffic on a mission from God and closing on your convoy quickly. You wave your arms to get the driver’s attention to no avail. You yell obscenities at the crazy Iraqi while drawing down on the vehicle with your large caliber, fully automatic, machine gun. Hell, you even throw your water bottle hoping to get the hood on a bounce. Nothing. You notice a male driver who appears to be gripping the wheel a little too tight and who has beads of sweat forming on his brow. You realize that this could be trouble. But… to complicate the matter, there is a woman (presumably his wife) and 4 children in the car as well. The vehicle is fast approaching… and you have a mere second to react. Your buddy’s, nay, family’s lives are on the line behind you. They trust you to make the right decision. What do you do?

Option 1: Warning shots. Sure. Can work. Collateral damage becomes an issue, and high ranking military personnel HATE such paperwork.

Option 2: Wait it out. This choice is putting the lives of a “civilian” before the lives of your military “family.”  I wholeheartedly disagree with this choice, but it keeps you out of Leavenworth.

Option 3: Stop the vehicle by any means necessary. Shoot ’em up and ensure the safety of your family who depends on you.

Now with any of these options you find out in the end that either… A) Vehicle drives right on by and through the convoy, apparently the wife was in labor and they were speeding to the hospital. B) Vehicle drives right by you and slams into middle vehicle as 5 155mm Mortar rounds detonate the vehicle killing 3, wounding 4 and truly screwing up your day.

So, you don’t know if a pregnant wife is being rushed to the hospital or a family of insane insurgents are preparing to destroy you.

That is a lot of responsibility to be put on an 18 year old private sitting behind an uber powerful machine gun. That’s why our armed forces are so wonderful. We have 18 year old kids who can and do make those decisions daily. What a wonderful country we were born in.

You make the wrong move and kill civilians though, you not only have to live with the mistake, but you will be ridiculed unmercifully by the media/big army. You will be buried in proceedings and paperwork the remainder of your deployment, and you will not be the same. Your buddies will be affected as well. Cpl. X will see how bad it could be to make the wrong decision, and will hesitate just a hair too long when there is a real threat… and more men will die. The fear of failure leads to hesitation, and hesitation in war is a lesser form of suicide.

That, in my opinion, is the problem. This is not a war. The enemy does not wear uniforms, and therefore the Geneva Convention is null and void instead of applicable.

My unit, as well as the thousands of other soldiers in our area dealt with these problems on a daily basis. The “details” of the ROE changed daily. Some examples… For a time, the gunners would bring buckets full of rocks into the turret with them to throw through the windshields of vehicles not adhering to our warnings to stay away (that ended quickly after command had to pay for numerous windshields). We put signs in Arabic/Kurdish/Turkish on the backs of the vehicles warning them to stay away. We fired warning shots. We did nothing. We drove in the center of the road and dominated our routes by running ignorant drivers right off the road. We drove with the flow of traffic and narrowly averted disaster numerous times.

From another NCO who was deployed in Ramadi for about a year.

The ROE is a politically based cover your ass piece of paper.  It has caused American deaths and really hurt our ability to actually DO anything …

The full ROE is classified, but soldiers are given a small 1 or so page excerpt.  It is stressed that the ROE is not do be divulged or given out to anyone not in uniform, but is more of an FOUO at our level (for official use only) … They [the grunts] are told they can always defend themselves, but then given warning of “overdefending” themselves. 

So yes, from the grunts on the field perspective … the ROE is vague and limiting.  And every time “violations” of the ROE came up it caused our soldiers and marines to question their actions and sometimes cause casualties. If you look up the case of the [unit redacted] Soldier from the [location redacted] region you will see an excellent example.  The [unit redacted] Soldiers started pulling back after that, and even though he eventually had the charges dropped it caused problems throughout the entire Battalion.

And without going into specifics if you look at [date redacted] incident when we lost two Marine pilots and an Army Lt north of [location redacted] you will see another example of how fear of ROE kept us from hitting an enemy until after he had fired at us (and led to a downed helo and an IEDed hummer).  And it was almost much worse.  We dropped two 500 lb bombs a little later and stopped the insurgents from a planned attack that might have led to even more deaths.  And we almost didn’t do that because of ROE.

Analysis and Commentary

These reports parallel the report documented in a recent article at Blackfive by another NCO:

Let me tell you a little something about ROE (Rules of Engagement). In Baghdad thousands of people are moving around all the time. Many houses, all of them, have guns. On a general scale, none of them are planning any wrongdoing at all. But they don’t think that Americans can accomplish anything, either, because they know we can’t search at will, can’t shoot at will, can’t detain at will.

If you wish to stop a car approaching a checkpoint, you must first post a sign a long way down the road, if it is ignored, you must verbally warn them, and use a green laser to get the drivers attention. If still ignored, you must fire a warning shot with an M4, then a M240, then, finally the kill shot. If at any time the car turns away, all you can do is TRY to pursue it, never shoot at it. Technically, similar rules exist for dismounted operations, and that puts more soldiers at risk than you can possibly imagine. I’m not sure Johnny on the street has this information, but Muhammed in the mosque sure does.

I can’t even tell you how pissed it makes me to hear a JAG officer suck in breath as he tries to think real hard how to explain the murky depths of our ROE. A system that used to be a way of allowing soldiers to avoid hurting civilians by using certain weapon systems at certain times has once again degenerated into a complex “Cover Your Ass

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Rules of Engagement…

Herschel Smith continues to hammer away at rules of engagement that put our guys at risk. This time with feedback from a few NCOs:
So yes, from the grunts on the field perspective … the ROE is vague and limiting. And every time “violations


Police are allowed to fire on criminals who are fleeing the scene of a crime.

Completely false. The only time we as police officers are allowed to discharge our weapon is to stop an immediate life threatening threat to yourself or other’s…thats it. If I were to shoot someone fleeing I would be looking at prison time.

The only time you may be justified is if someone just murdered a family of 5 for example and is trying to get away, if you feel that this person would kill again if you did not stop him immediately then you may be able to justify it…but it would not be easy.

Other then that this is a great post.


This post touches on a problem that has bedeviled American police for years and now plauges US troops in Iraq: how do you stop a moving car without shooting it, and the occupants, up?

I don’t know how much research is being done to solve this problem or what success it is having but it seems to be an area that should receive more emphasis. If a way could be found to do this, it would have not only an immediate benificial effect in Iraq, it would make the life of American police officers a whole lot easier.

I know this won’t make a difference in Iraq, but in the U.S., in most of the chases that I have knowledge of, the officers were able to get with 10 feet of the vehicle or actually touch it. Maybe this observation would help a designer.

100% agree with Curt’s comments.

James Mayhall

It seems to me that everyone providing testimonials in this discussion assumes that Iraqi civilians bear no responsibility for their behavior toward Coalition forces. Perhaps the reason for that assumption is worry about pressure from news services and the brass. If so, those who author and implement ROE have an obligation to clarify when threatening behavior crosses a threshold that justifes a lethal response. For example, in the case of the machine gunner who is rear guard for a convoy, I simply cannot imagine that this soldier has not been given the means to signal an approaching vehicle that a closer approach will result in a lethal response. It is the duty of the military to provide such a means and to widely publicize their existence. In the state of Florida, if a police officer steps in front of your vehicle and orders you to stop, but you hit the gas, you will get shot. Everyone is quite familiar with this fact. I simply cannot imagine that similar rules of engagement cannot be devised for our soldiers in Iraq. The fact that no such rules have been devised shows that a very serious failure has taken place.


Rules of Endangerment II…

Required Reading – The Captain’s Journal takes a solid look at the Rules of Engagement from the eyes of two more NCOs who give some good examples of when it works and when it doesn’t….

Mike Rentner
Herschel, again you confuse the ROE with the conduct of the war. You confuse the ROE with individual soldiers and Marines being afraid of political backlash. Again I will point out that even with the most liberal of ROE, the result would be the same. If the ROE permitted our men to shoot at anything whenever they wanted to, there would still be a political backlash. If the ROE were so permissive to allow a Marine or soldier to shoot at an approaching car or leaving car, or stationary car with no need for rationale, and it gets caught on camera, you can be sure that CNN will air it and the investigations will commence. Note that each NCO already says that he does have the authority to make a decision to shoot if he deems he is in danger. So you are chasing a red herring still. What you are complaining about is the war, not the ROE. This is the war we have. You can either like it or not like it, but absent a major policy shift at the level of the commander in chief, this is how it must be fought. I’d love to see that… Read more »

I think lost in all this (or perhaps I read too quickly) is that there are two sets of ROE. There is the overall ROE, which can be tightened but not loosened. Then there are ROEs that may apply to cities or specific military units. I’d guess most of the problems are with the latter. In the all-important effort to win hearts and minds (and CYA) some of these are pretty ridiculous. For example, on my first trip to Ramadi I discovered minarets were being used as sniper positions. To this day, all minarets make me nervous, including some I saw in Spain. I asked why we couldn’t just station Iraqi Police at the entrance to check for nothing more than rifles — easily done even under a flowing robe. “No way!” came the answer. The people of Ramadi would resent us. I simply don’t believe that. Anyway, in other places it’s being done. So we do need to distinguish between “macro” and “micro” ROEs.


In the first NCO’s comments, he mentions that Option 2 will keep you out of Leavenworth. What he fails to mention is that it may put you in Arlington. Where would you rather have your wife and kids (and your military family) visit you?

Mike Rentner

James Mayhall,

There have been many different ways that have been used to signal cars to stop. Noises, pen flares, shooting, etc. The problem is that Iraqis often behave very irrationally. Instead of stopping, they think that if they accelerate they can magically win the confrontation. There’s no doubt that they see and hear warnings, in many instances, they just refuse to believe them.

This isn’t usually the case of the enemy not stopping, it’s usually a nice neighborhood family. And it’s tragic when these nice people get holes in the head of their children. No one wants that, and it happens too often.

Americans, or people in countries that are accustomed to a semblance of the rule of law would have no problems. But these are people in a country that has had no rule of law for a long time. The easy solution is to blame them and just kill them for their mistakes, and there’s a valid argument for that way to go, but it still won’t change the CNN factor.


Mike Rentner,

Having led a rifle company over there, I can definitely understand the perception the soldiers have. We seem to have lawyers running the war, and just the threat of an ivestigation for a split second decision, even if they will be eventually exonerated, is enough to cause hesitation.

A question – not meant to be insulting, just to know your perspective – have you ever been shot at on either an offensive operation or a defensive operation over there. I know you said you’re in the Marines, so I wonder what you job is. I’ll go back over as an S3, but I’ve done some time on the street and kicking down doors(Kifl, al Hillah, Karbala, Baghdad, then Mosul). Where were your engagements?

Robert B

What you are missing (and those with the “Leavenworth vs. Arlington” argument are missing as well) is that by violating ROE designed to minimize casualties to civilians, you may have personally avoided Arlington, but you doomed two more soldiers to die later.

How is that? Well, every Iraqi I even knew has a little bit of a family thing going on, know what I mean? Accidentally fire him up (or his brother/dad/uncle/cousin/sister/mom etc), and you have created at least four *new* insurgency supporters, and probably 1-2 *new* insurgents.

Now, work on that math.

It means that instead of getting out in 12 months, we’re still there. Pretty simple. The guys who, accidentally or intentionally, violated ROE in 2003 directly contributed to the deaths of an unknown number of Americans (because some number are just flat-out accidents, and you can’t change that) in 2005 and 2006…and…and…and…


Violate ROE, kill innocents, and you’re going to get an American killed down the line. Pretty simple.


Herschel Smith
MF, Thanks for dropping by my friend. Your point is good, as always. The post doesn’t go far enough to pull this thread about distinguishing between micro- and macro-ROE (I doubt I could keep my readers that long). I do lodge a complaint concerning macro-ROE. I have in two posts now. My complaint is that of the revision in version .01B to make individual self-defense a subset of unit self defense, and to give the CO the authority to restrict the right of individual self defense. This, in my opinion, adds nothing to ROE but confusion. Then, there is the issue of micro-ROE. Your instance of minarets is interesting, and had I conversed with you on this, I probably would have tried to address this in the post. Based on what you said, it appears that there is an issue with the application of micro-ROE as well. A minaret is the perfect place for a sniper to hang out. The word I am hearing is that there are two kinds of shooters in Ramadi now. The first is the Saddam loyalist, Fedayeen, who uses an AK-47, shoots from the hip, and usually hits nothing with his spray. Then there is… Read more »

B, I understand your point and it’s certainly valid. Doesn’t the hesitation caused by the ROEs, as mentioned several times above, also doom other soldiers? I’ll admit that I haven’t deployed (yet) and I don’t have anything close to the experience that others commenting on these blogs have. It just seems like we’re tying our own hands behind our back sometimes, and it’s costing lives now.

James Mayhall

Mike Rentner. You do not address the point about advertising. Can’t our military buy ads on Al-Jazeera explaining our rules of engagement? A war is supposed to change the behavior of our enemies and the population in which they live. Are you claiming that eliciting rational behavior from Iraqi citizens is a practical impossibility?


The fifth-column left will not permit the US military to have the tools it needs to win the war.

Changing the rules of engagement will not be permitted, as the left is on the enemies’ side.

I would be interested in steering the discussion toward what a good ROE would be and how to attain and maintain it. How much force can soldiers exercise during an occupation of this type before their use of force is used as propaganda against them? And what role do the media play in this. I believe that the US has been sold out by the US media, both news and entertainment, and this is a contributing factor to the silly ROE we have. On a personal level, i always like to ask people who say “I support the troops” (just before they rant against the war) if they support the troops being able to use the force necessary to protect themselves and win the war. It tends to shine the truth on thier true opinion of the troops. A secondary issue after the ROE is the rules for detaining suspected insurgents and the differences in treatment they get if the Iraqi’s or the occupation forces capture them. Namely they seem to get much softer treatment and easier release if US forces nab them. This sort of catch and release is in the same vein as the ROE.
Mike Rentner
James Mayhall, I’d much rather expand the war and destroy Al Jazeera. That’s what I mean by saying the ROE are fine, it’s the overall war policies that are bad. In a war where information operations are our greatest weakness, we are neither taking effective IO action ourselves, nor are we taking effective action to limit the enemy’s IO. But that is not a factor of the ROE. Russ, Yes, I’m an S-6, but I’ve been on many combat operations (Operation Sword, Operation New Market, Operations in Kubaysa, Haqlaniyah, etc.) and I’ve been shot at a couple times. One time I and a few others took about 20 or so rounds from what was probably an AK-74, which is a bit unusual over there. Some of the rounds passed within a few feet of me, others were a little further off. It’s a good thing the muj often have such bad aim. No, I didn’t shoot back because I couldn’t tell which of two houses the fire was coming from. I never had the misfortune of being hit by an IED, but I’ve carried more than my share of dead Marines and hope to never have that need again. There… Read more »
Accounting Bum » Blog Archive » How to solve the war in 90 days

[…] Update:  For a ground eye view of the problem see this post about the current rules of engagement (ROE) in Iraq. There will be those who say that the NCOs are not privy to things necessary to understand ROE, or who say that they exaggerated, or any of a host of other things.  These things may be said by institutional military, and may even be said from the safety and warmth of an office or living room while typing on a computer.  But wishing it doesn’t make it so.  The NCOs have weighed in, and they have done so without equivocation. […]


So long as it is more important to avoid civilian casualties than to win the war, the war cannot be won. The enemy is able to exploit this self-imposed cripple to prevent effective action.


Robert B:

We’re really, really good at killing bad guys when we have the will to do so.

All of them, including brothers.

Mike, I might sound shallow here, but I do feel that there is a certain amount of credibility lost when someone tries to make a judgement about a combat situation having never been in one. The uncertainty, the apprehension, the worry you are sending people to die, is all very difficult to understand, especially in the context of the ROE, unless you have experienced it first hand. I’m not saying that excuses any kind of egregious behavior, just that it lends context. I’m glad you came through it safe. I hope all our soldiers do the same. However, investigations over every shooting endanger that. I mean, we are talking about a war. And, no, I don’t mean that there aren’t horrible things that some of our soldiers do, but I like to think of war crimes the same way I think about pornography – it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. However, holding an investigation, even if it ultimately reveals nothing, over a soldier’s head is going to cause hesitation. We can say all we like that it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s human nature. Bruce Willis said it best – The Army is… Read more »


You don’t stop an insurgency by wishing him well. The people might stop supporting him, but he will still try to kill. No amount of happy thoughts will alter that.

Mike Rentner

Russ, I can’t disagree with a single word you said.

Herschel Smith


Please contact me offline at the e-mail address given on the web site.


Gen. Curtis LeMay: “If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting”.

Seems clear enough to me…

Evan Santo

#9 James –

You put your finger on why warnings don’t work with Iraqis. In the Arab world there is an overwhelming sense of fatalism, EVERYTHING is Allah’s Will, negating the need for personal responsibility. They do not understand simple cause and effect relationships between actions and consequences, therefore the only law-and-order that ever works in that part of the world is the brutality of strongmen. We have a very big problem, its name is Islam.

Cold Fury » Prescription for victory: more than we’re willing to swallow

[…] Update! More cause for despair: In the end, the most compelling witness to the success or failure of a strategy is the effect on the ground. Rules of engagement have a strategic import in that the lack of proper ROE will always cause doctrine to become mute and tactics to fail. The testimony of three respected NCOs is that the current ROE are not only not helpful, but that they are a hindrance and impediment to accomplishment of mission objectives. Thus, the strategic importance of ROE. ROE cannot cause us to win, but they can sure cause us to lose. […]

Evan Santo


I’m not a racist but I recognize what the problems in the Islamic World are. It is plain for anyone to see. They simply do irrational things because there is no personal responsibility at all. That is the crux of all our problems. This may make them incompatible with all our notions of governance. It is sad but quite possibly true.

Evan Santo

Oh and Kevin, just to balance the table for you – Asians don’t seem to have a problem with Western notions of government because they have a very well-developed notion of personal responsibility. As you might guess, I’m not Asian. I have no untoward feelings for any race, this is just simple observation.

I’ll say straight up: I thought this war was foolish from the start, and continue to think so. Problems with things like ROE are symptomatic of the basic unwinability of the war. Our goals are strategically incoherent. If you set aside the “Saddam can threaten us with WMD” justification for the war (which I do not think was ever believable), the reason for this war was to establish a friendly democracy in the Middle East. Seeing this example would get the Muslim world to favor the U.S. over Al Qaeda. In other words, we have basically invaded another country in order to get the people we are invading to like us. That is the strategic goal. The ROE reflect that. But the goal makes no sense. Putting over a hundred thousand heavily armed young people, trained to kill, into an alien culture where they do not even speak the language, is not a recipe for being liked. If we want to maximize force protection, I would suggest bringing the troops back to the U.S. where no one is shooting at them. This would be the best course of all, and would immediately solve all ROE issues.
Joel Leggett
The concern about individual self defense being a subset of unit self defense is extremely misplaced. Individual self defense has always been a subset of unit self defense, and it should be. This is due to the simple fact that commanders must always have the ultimate authority over when to engage the enemy. For instance, say a commander puts some Marines out in a forward OP/LP in order to find out when an enemy unit is approaching. He may want those Marines to stay in position and hold their fire even if the enemy gets dangerously close to the OP/LP. He may want to do this in order to draw the enemy in for ambush or to simply attack them from a more advantageous position. However, if individual self defense took priority over unit self defense he would not have the authority to order those Marines to hold their fire if they felt threatened. Simply put, if commanders are to have the responsibility of engaging the enemy they have to have the authority to enforce fire discipline. If the subjective opinion of the Marine or soldier on the ground supersedes the commander’s authority over fire discipline then the commander’s ability… Read more »
Herschel Smith


I am glad to hear your last sentence. But you imagine a difference of opinion where there isn’t one. I agree with every word you said about placement of troops to draw the enemy in, for instance. I also understand about fire and muzzle discipline.

This is not what I refer to. More to the point, you are correct, it has always been this way. Given this, there was no need to amend the ROE under revision .01B

Finally, none of this makes the issue go away of moral affects on the troops. In order words, nothing you said makes the words of the NCOs I cite above any less compelling.

Herschel Smith

Sorry, one final thing. I usually require that anyone claiming to be military send me an e-mail at the address found on the web site so that I can verify the network domain.


thank you everyone from an interested and grateful civilian. I think it’s amazing that a forum such as this exists. A quick question — is there any good research or are there any good books comparing different ROEs? And is there any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise that the game-theory exercises the upper level military folks must engage in have any bearing in reality?

Joel Leggett

Although I entered my email address when I posted my comment I have sent you a confirmation email.

Posted as anonymous here before. ROE is a complicated matter and I change my mind about it every day. However, as far as that first NCO goes in Iraq, the example given is terrible. We didn’t once get hit by suicide vbieds in the year we were there (Kirkuk). The Iraqis did, not us. And I don’t think there’s been a single suicide vbied filled with a family in the whole of Iraq. Cars got too close to convoys all the time, and as a gunner, if I saw one or two males in the car, I was behind my 50 aiming at the windshield until they backed off. If they’re so close that you can throw a bottle or rocks, you’d be f*d up if it was an actual IED. However, families I wouldn’t bother sighting down, just throw stuff to get them to back off. Your gunner should have had the presence of mind to do the same and not get spooked by every family driving up on him. As for the rocks and such, we only got those taken away because of degenerates who enjoyed throwing them at cars, like it was some kind of game, without… Read more »


Leaving would resolve the ROE issue, of course. It would also validate OBL’s remark about the paper tiger.

It would probably also lead to the slaughter of a couple of million Sunnis, and a refugee crisis that makes the former Yugoslavia look like a vicar’s tea party. Oh, and would likely touch off a civil war (an actual one, not the NBC variety), and possibly a regional war (how long, just to posit a single example, do you think the Kurds would stay out of Southern Turkey once they get to keep all their own oil money?).

That’s not a formula for being liked in the middle east either.

We have to increase our troops’ ability to kill bad guys, and give them the benefit of the doubt in all cases.

We need to show resolve, and a determination to win. THAT’s what does the talking in that neck of the woods.

Herschel Smith

The individual named Kevin has been marked as spam.


Tell us of a major war which was won without killing 1M of the enemy. Tell us of a major war which was won when anyone gave a good goddamn about enemy civilians.

You can’t, because such a war is unwinnable.

Long lasting insurgencies exist when the nominal winner has failed to kill the enemy. Over history, this was usually because they lacked the means. Since WWII, we’ve encountered another weakness: lack of will.

We failed to kill the enemy in Korea, and the war basically goes on.

We failed to kill the enemy in Viet Nam, and lost.

We’re now failing to kill the enemy in Iraq, and are headed for defeat.

Someone else pointed out, it’s absurd to invade a country to get them to like you. In modern times, you invade a country to crush whatever threat they pose (historically you invaded to seize territory or slaves or economic resources, in addition to crushing threats). If the insurgency in Iraq remains a threat, that threat should be crushed, with concern for the civilian population about like we were concerned for Japanese and German civilians during WWII.

Uncultured Barbarian

Herschel, excellent post. kevin is a liar. Period. Hey, kevin, in response to your post # 21—you are correct. This post does contain some simple-minded, dolty remarks, including all of yours. The garbage we fight have one goal, to kill us. It’s that SIMPLE. We kill them first. It’s that SIMPLE. To refer to the enemy as a “counterinsurgency” is a one-word lie. As to your comment #25. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!!! Mindlessly wandering into the middle of a MILITARY CONVOY is like mindlessly wandering into a raging housefire. Anyone that stupid probably needs killing. So tell me, is that how your mind works?

chickenhawk like Cheney
chickenhawk like Cheney


OBL can think whatever he wants. Let him stick his head up, and we’ll see how long he’s calling us a paper tiger. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay on the streets over there forever, either.

Iraq’s about to be split up, and we need to go along with this process. And if they want to kill each other, we’ll have to allow them to do so. As long as the 3 new little “countries” stay within behavioral boundaries we can accept, then that’s probably the best we’re gonna get from this situation. How long do you want the US military over there getting shot at, with no end in sight? Something’s gotta give here.

Never Yet Melted » Rules of Engagement in Iraq
[…] Some NCO’s discuss their own experiences with ROE in Iraq. Food for thought. Scenario: You’re a gunner on an M2 .50 caliber machine gun mounted atop a M1114 Up-Armored HMMWV. You are the last vehicle and you are pulling rear security. A vehicle in the distance is swerving through traffic on a mission from God and closing on your convoy quickly. You wave your arms to get the driver’s attention to no avail. You yell obscenities at the crazy Iraqi while drawing down on the vehicle with your large caliber, fully automatic, machine gun. Hell, you even throw your water bottle hoping to get the hood on a bounce. Nothing. You notice a male driver who appears to be gripping the wheel a little too tight and who has beads of sweat forming on his brow. You realize that this could be trouble. But… to complicate the matter, there is a woman (presumably his wife) and 4 children in the car as well. The vehicle is fast approaching… and you have a mere second to react. Your buddy’s, nay, family’s lives are on the line behind you. They trust you to make the right decision. What do you do?… Read more »
First, let me say that no soldier should ever be sent to prison for killing. We teach boys to obey their superiors without question, and we teach then to kill. Logically, we should also teach them who to kill, or be responsible for their actions. Therefore, only the commanding officer should see the inside of a prison as a result of official military activity. After discharge, that’s another story. Second, Political Correctness is killing us and will kill us if we don’t put a sudden stop to it. When Patton slapped a coward in WW2, the absurdity of pulling him out of service was as assinine a move as ever made. Mark Clark lost 8,000 men on the way to Rome, where Patton would have had breakfast with the Pope rather than ‘dig in’ at Anzio. May I remind you, those 8,000 men were fathers, brothers, and sons of American citizens. I’m sure those facts are not presented to the students at West Point. What about the fact that Sherman burned, broke, stole, or killed everything he could find between Atlanta and Savanah. Like the 2 nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, Sherman’s march was designed to bring the war to… Read more »
Herschel Smith

#40, UB:

Thanks. I spammed “Kevin” not because he said things that were contoversial (many people have done that). I am okay with controversy. I spammed him because he made personal attacks in a short-lived comment (I got rid of it about as soon as it hit). I don’t allow personal attacks, and as it turns out, Kevin was just a troll. How sad for him. He will now have to go find some other place to troll around and spew venom.

Wolf Pangloss

Seems to me as a very interested, non-military observer whose fondest wish would be for Iraq to be used as a springboard for war on Iran and Syria, thus doing a lot more to reduce the insurgency than playing whack-a-mole in Haditha does, that the ROE get blamed for the real problems which are:

1. An atmosphere of hostile legal investigations by the military of its own soldiers. The solution to this is not to fix the ROE. The solution is to fix the way military legal investigations work.

2. Rumors and gossip about the hostile legal system. The solution is to forestall gossip and rumors with plenty of accurate & positive information and to punish gossips with undesirable duties.

Back to your regularly scheduled program.

Drew Kelley

Question: Would the ROE be different if members of JAG-Corp first had to pull a tour as a platoon-leader?

Herschel Smith

#45 and #46: Good points, both of you. I still think that ROE could use some tweeking (more freedom for Marine countersnipers, and amendment back to revision .01A). I think it would be a marvelous idea to stick JAGs in a platoon prior to going to JAG-Corps. But platoon leader? Whew! Might have trouble there.

Mike Rentner


Marine JAG’s are trained in infantry tactics to the same level as any other Marine Corps officer, excepting those that get more specialized training as infantry officers.

That is, any Marine officer can be a platoon commander (or battalion commander for that matter) in a pinch, including JAG’s who are also line officers. That’s our philosophy, every Marine is a rifleman, and the corollary is that every Marine Officer is a potential infantry officer. JAG’s are not line officers in the Navy, and I don’t know about the other services, but they are in the USMC. My battalion overseas had two officers that happened to be both infantry officers and JAG’s (one of whom was the weapons company commander), as did the battalion we relieved, if I’m not mistaken.

The Coffeespy » Rules of Endangerment - Part II

[…] The Captain’s Journal dropped me an email to let me know there had been an update to the ROE discussion (thanks, Cap).  A few NCOs in theatre gave their views on the situation.  Rather than repost numerous exerpts, I will quote one I thought to be the most telling: If you wish to stop a car approaching a checkpoint, you must first post a sign a long way down the road, if it is ignored, you must verbally warn them, and use a green laser to get the drivers attention. If still ignored, you must fire a warning shot with an M4, then a M240, then, finally the kill shot. […]

Herschel Smith
Mike, Yes. And I have to tell you, I hold Gen. Al Gray in iconic status. He is the one who brought back the warrior ethos. I know all about the quals that every Marine has to go through in boot. I had him autograph his picture and write a note of congratulations to my son upon graduation from boot. Still, and I am not telling you something you don’t already know, there is a difference between MOS 0311 and a POAG. The things I know about my son’s existence and how Marines live and what they do to each other and with each other, and training accidents, etc., I can NEVER blog on. I wouldn’t put the Marines or my son at risk like this. But my point is that while other MOS go to war in their specific billets, there is something different about Marine infantry. The hardest of hard core. And this difference starts when some go to MCT and others go to SOI. But … I have no knowledge of the training that officers go through at Quantico. I suppose you are saying that there is no essential difference in the training: an officer is an… Read more »

You are currently reading "The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement", entry #419 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Rules of Engagement,Weapons and Tactics and was published December 13th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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